This morning I attended a session in which three writing teachers/scholars presented theories and strategies on how to improve interpersonal interaction in online courses. Here’s a synopsis of what the first presenter said, followed by my reaction:
(Pavel Zemlianksy) Need for interactive, collaborative, constructivist approach is a given. But how do students get to the point where they’re comfortable with online interpersonal interaction, and how can teachers encourage this? Immediacy and social presence are goals in online classes as well as f2f. Peer editing as example—acknowledgement of “presence” is one stage; “interactive” (dialogic) response is the goal. (Note use of nested threads (Droople platform) to indicate degrees of interactivity.)
Practical strategies: Create instructions for commenting on the responses of others, and include what makes a good post—bad and good models. (Good posting instructions are like good web design, with simple interface, no more than 9 items per page.) Also encourage positive behaviour; praise good posts and show why/how they’re good. Avoid “e-mails to teacher” trend; use discussion forums instead.
My comments–This was useful and clear. I was impressed at the screenshots of Droople’s discussion threads; it was easy to see the “call and response” pattern that should characterize dialogic communication. I never did create instructions for posting for Rhet&WWW, though I laid out some content parameters from time to time. Most discussions in Rhet&WWW are of high quality, well developed and on-message; only a few are a bit perfunctory or off-topic. Is this because most students in this course have taken online courses before and thus are already knowledgeable about the genre requirements of online academic “discussion”? What instructors say about “how to post online” would at least partly depend on students’ previous experience with online course discussions.
(In New York City)